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If you have Olympic yearnings, be advised that the luge is within reach for amateurs. But, despite a low bar of difficulty to begin sliding, it might take years to master the sport.
Jon Owen, Western Regional Program director for the United States Luge Association, says it takes about eight years to become competitive—and four to eight more before there’s much chance of moving into the upper ranks.
Perhaps that’s why Owen’s Wasatch Luge Club starts kids on its youth-development team at age eight. Olympians Preston Griffall, who doubles with Matt Mortensen, and Kate Hansen, who singles on the women’s side, got their start in the club program—and they’re competing in Sochi.
Big kids can zip down the Utah Olympic Park track too. The Adult Beginner Luge program (check the website for dates) includes four coached runs down the track. The $90 charge covers the track fee, instruction, equipment, and a one-year membership to the Wasatch Luge Club. Participating in the program is the only way to gain admittance to the club, which offers Thursday-night recreational slides November through March.
On the East Coast, the Adirondack Luge Club welcomes novice sliders to the Olympic Sports Complex in Lake Placid, New York. For $40, sliders receive a day pass for the track, as well as equipment—including helmets and elbow pads—and access to the same coaches who guide the U.S. national teams.
Michigan has two clubs:
The Upper Peninsula Luge Club slides at the Lucy Hill Naturbahn Luge Track, where the path winds down a natural, unrefrigerated hill whose boards are tacked to snowbanks to create 32 turns. Athletes Liesel Demeuse, Derek Carter, Daryn Carter, Levi Underwood, and Vincent Schultz, who all train at the natural track, competed in the 2014 World Cup and Nation’s Cup races for natural luge (it’s slightly different from the Olympic-style version, which runs on artificial tracks).
A $10 fee buys an afternoon on the 800-meter track in Negaunee, Michigan, complete with equipment (including shoes with cleats for better braking) and instruction, whether during scheduled recreational sliding times or set up as appointments.
Olympians don’t frequent the Muskegon Luge Track, even though three-time Olympian Frank Masley designed it: the 850-foot track in North Muskegon was created for luge neophytes. The $45 fee, which gets lugers out on the track Saturdays and Sundays, includes a two-and-a-half-hour lesson.